Fenil and Bollywood

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CHUCK IT! Anil Kapoor warms up at the Dodgers Stadium and (below) with two fans

Anil Kapoor first Indian to throw ‘first pitch’ in baseball

MARK MANUEL Times News Network (BOMBAY TIMES; May 14, 2009)

This is not like Shah Rukh Khan pumping his fist for his IPL team Knight Riders in South Africa. Or Preity Zinta waving the King’s XI flag to encourage her’s. This is a bigger sporting honour in the US than all of that, normally reserved for American Presidents, visiting heads of state, pop stars and super athletes; but, strangely, given to our Anil Kapoor in LA earlier this week.

Known as the first pitch in baseball, this ceremonial ritual has the guest of honour throwing a baseball from the pitcher’s mound to home plate to mark the end of pregame festivities and the official start of the tournament. American Presidents from Roosevelt, Eisenhower and Kennedy to DodNixon, Reagan and Bush have all thrown the first pitch at some time for their favourite teams.

Anil, of course, has no favourite team. Nor had he any idea about baseball until he was invited to do the honours for the Dodgers team of LA. The Bollywood actor is in that city and working on the worldfamous teleserial 24. “It’s a kind of cult show, a thriller of the action genre that’s almost bigger than a Hollywood film, and it’s syndicated to 83 countries where youngsters love it,” said Anil. He plays a Middle Eastern leader on a peace mission to the US.

He’s been in LA since February and has got a good six months more to go. But, in the period, Slumdog Millionaire happened… and Anil is now recognised everywhere in LA. “I didn’t know what a huge honour it is to be invited to throw the first pitch, or that I’m the first Indian to do so,” he said in a phone call from LA. But, with great sportsmanship, he accepted and then went to a baseball stadium (“for the first time!”) to practise how to pitch!

“The rules of the game are opposite to cricket,” he exclaimed. “A full toss, what would be declared a bad call in cricket, is considered a good pitch! And, while we run straight between the wickets, they run around in circles. Everything in America is intentionally opposite to the rest of the world! We press down an electrical switch for the lights to come on… there you have to turn up the switch! Cricket is an art, in baseball, you’re trying to kill someone. You take this round bat like what the dhobi uses to wash clothes, aur ball ko maaro, saala!”

But, when he went into the Dodgers Stadium in LA to pitch for the home team in its match against Arizona, baseball aficionados and Bollywood fans thought Anil Kapoor had been pitching all his life! “My hand was stiff from the practise. And I didn’t know what I was doing, but it turned out to be big, and that was the greater fun,” he reported excitedly.

He did make one boo-boo, though. After the game (“which Dodgers won, thank God!”), the Bollywood hero was invited by the opposite Arizona team for a television interview. And, out of respect, they presented Anil Kapoor with a baseball cap with ‘Arizona’ written on it. He wore it and stepped out. The Dodgers supporters pounced on him! “Take it off ! How can you be disloyal to us,” they demanded of their lucky mascot.